Things could have been worse. We could have been wholly unemployed, or not had a home, or lost a baby. All the same, the year you were born and the months after, our lives were in a whirlwind of stress. We were taking on too many things–finishing a master’s degree, finishing our basement, starting up a childcare business, losing a job–and we weren’t wholly prepared for your entrance into our world. We didn’t have health insurance or all the money in the world to pay a hospital for your birth. And the day I discovered you inside my womb, I was surrounded by three babies vomiting while I lay on the couch, sick myself, wondering what we were going to do.
I should have known. If I was a fortune teller, I’d preemptively strike a snapshot of your entry into the world, that curdling newborn scream as you were pulled from me into the tub into my arms as smoothly as pulling a popsicle out of its wrapper. I should have know that out of three births, yours was the only one that happened at home, as perfectly, painlessly, and quickly as I’d imagined it.
I’d made a plan: My sister would bake a chocolate cake from scratch (I’d read about this in a book written by a famous midwife). In the time it took her to sift flour, blend together cream cheese frosting, wait for the cake to cool, and perfectly frost it with her architectural expertise, you would enter the world.
When I called the midwife at three-thirty in the afternoon, she asked where Isabella was, where my husband was, where my sister and mother were. “Isabella’s in her room, Bruce is at work, my mother and sister are coming.” “Well, I still think it’s amazing that you can leave your toddler in a room by herself. Don’t have the baby until I get there!”
By the time she did, I was ready. We’d barely filled the tub, and the contractions were expanding along my spine, my belly, my abdomen. I slipped into the hot water as Grandma took Isabella to her house, as Elizabeth didn’t use the high altitude recipe and let the smell of overflowed, burnt cake batter fill the house, and my pain disappeared. Moments later, with almost no effort (after spending two hours on excruciating pain on this task with your older sister), I pushed you out.
You needed no training on how to nurse. You were a starved expert from that first moment, searching throughout that first night for milk that hadn’t quite arrived. Your eyes were open, jaundice-free, when everyone came to see you. Isabella looked perplexed (she was twenty-one months) and perhaps a bit jealous. When Grandma was holding you the next morning and you were staring up into her eyes, she said, “You have an old soul in this one. She’s been here before.” The next morning I was getting dressed, and I placed you on the middle of the bed for a moment while I left the room, your head pointed at the opposite wall. When I reentered, you turned your head to look at me, something I hadn’t seen your sister do until almost four months. I knew my mother was right: There was something different about you.
During that first year of your life, in the balancing act of young parenthood and career beginnings, Daddy lost his job. While he futilely searched for another, I finished up my master’s degree and set out on my own search, accepting the fact that I would have to give up one of the biggest dreams of my life: staying home with my kids until they were in school. The night before I started my new teaching job, I lay awake counting all the hours I’d had with you, holding you in my arms, nursing you, watching you watch your sister dart around the house… The grief of it was so heavy I couldn’t sleep, and I spent my first day in a haze of depression.
But you were home with your Daddy, better than any daycare, and before I could blink you were trailing your sister around the house and repeating every word she said with your adorable dangling modifier, “Too.” Isabella: “I want to have some milk.” Mythili: “I want to have some juice… too!” Isabella: “I want to go outside.” Mythili: “I want to go outside… too!” And so you learned to speak and walk by fourteen months, and had developed enough language to enter your imaginary world that involves nothing less than two objects of any type–pasta shells, sticks, fingers, or dolls, to create wildly fantastical stories filled with clips of language you’ve overheard from your sisters, your friends, your parents and grandparents, books you’ve read, or movies you’ve watched. Even last night, when you ultimately decided not to go to the musical with your baby sister and I, you set up camp with your doll below the piano bench, too engulfed in your current tale to wholly say goodbye.
Mythili, how has it been ten years since that whirlwind moment of your entrance into our lives? You’re turning ten today, and sometimes I feel like we have a four-year-old, wishing to hold on to the magic of childhood for as long as possible, while other moments I think I must be speaking to an adult, with your wise sayings and bits of advice, spoken in the perfect undertone of an expert in every field.
You are a decade old, and your life is just now beginning to unfold. You have proven your adaptability to the world around you, to the stress around you, in ways that most people would envy. Mama back to work and no more milk? You were my only child willing to take a bottle of formula. New baby sister? She’s cute, but I’m a bit busy playing with Isabella right now… I’ll save my play for her for later. Moving to Spain for a year? You picked up Spanish like you were born with it and made friends within the first week of school, translated for your father when I was gone, anything from how to order a coffee to what the oven repairmen were telling him. Share a room with two sisters? You set rules for who got what beds when, always making sure to make your middle child status quite clear.
Things could have been worse, that year you were born. The worst of them all would have been if you hadn’t arrived. If you hadn’t brought that painless peace to my childbearing, that sage expression that so often comes across your face. If you hadn’t become a part of our family, we wouldn’t be the family we are today.
Things could have been worse. Without you, Mythili Lucia, they would have been. Thank you for making our lives what they are: filled with laughter and wonderment, joy and honesty. Happy tenth birthday my love, my sweet, persistent, quirky, imaginative child.